520: I Worry My Mother Will Die and I Will Know Nothing

520: I Worry My Mother Will Die and I Will Know Nothing

520: I Worry My Mother Will Die and I Will Know Nothing


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I spend a lot of time thinking about hunger. Too much time really. I’m from a family who starts planning their next meal while they are sitting down to their first meal. I have read books on hunger. How to feel full. How to know when you are hungry or just bored or maybe sad.

But hunger is also something else isn’t it? It’s not just the physical need to eat, but sometimes it is the want to be made satisfied, to feel, for once, like we have enough. I love watching children push away a plate when they’ve discovered fullness. It is a gift to be full and to know it. 

But me? I’m greedy with food. I love it. I over order from restaurants, and cook too much food at home. I want to feel not just full but fixed in some way. As if each meal will be my last and I must take it in, like the world, all at once.

Today’s poem centers on these ideas of hunger and fullness. It asks what can satisfy us in a world that is often telling us we are not enough and will never have enough.

I Worry My Mother Will Die and I Will Know Nothing 
by Asa Drake

Sometimes, history is too beautiful to be believed.
Until dinnertime, my grandmother sold gardenias

wrapped in banana leaves. Then, she found
better ways to earn a living. Years later, at an

American restaurant, I’m mistaken for a waitress
wearing all my silk. An accident I knew in my body

like the pride I felt when my adult mother said
I have narrow feet. Mother warns me, Nothing will

change. I’m alive and you don’t know anything.
It was winter when my mother spoke, apples

rolling in the backseat, the fragrance shifting off-
site under the great deterrent of rain. It’s still winter,

with a brown leaf staining my work
slacks. I smell the tea olives working up

spring (or the luxury of that kind of thinking
in January) when I explain to another

that my lunch wasn’t useful. All my life,
I’ve wanted to lay with my stomach to the grass.

I’ve wanted to eat from community gardens.
I wrote a lie I’ll admit now. I didn’t eat

the municipal fruit. I bought the Cosmic Crisp
over the Honeycrisp for a dollar surcharge because

I wanted extra shelf life. The last day of the week, I split it
to decide if it’s for sharing or eating whole. It’s a luxury

to have your hunger. I’m sure I don’t need to
go back, but can we go back to the restaurant? I am laughing

with the woman at the table next to mine about the woman
who would have me serve while I celebrate. She was going

to eat one dish, and I’ve ordered five. You know
I’ll still leave hungry because I don’t tell you

what I eat. See the phoenix with its mouth and feet grasping
for two servings? I am where I come from.

"I Worry My Mother Will Die and I Will Know Nothing" by Asa Drake. Used by permission of the poet.